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COVID-19: New testing kit and app that could protect health care workers

scientist with equipment

7 April 2020

Today is World Health Day, a global health awareness day celebrated every year on the 7th of April under the sponsorship of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The theme for World Health Day 2020 is: Support Nurses and Midwives.

Muriel Cozier

Covid-19 has brought into focus the essential role played by nurses, midwives and health professionals around the world. As well as greater appreciation for the incredible work they do, the pandemic has highlighted that many of the tools needed for them to carry out their vital work safely have been in short supply. In recent weeks the scientific community has stepped up to ensure that essential supplies for these critical staff are being made available. One of those essentials is Covid-19 testing kits.

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have developed a rapid testing technology for Covid-19. The team say that the test is much faster than those currently available and does not need complex instrumentation, making it useful in community healthcare centres and rural settings. Previous viral RNA tests took up to two hours to give a result, the new test does it in 30 minutes.

The technology has been validated with real clinical samples at Shenzhen Luohou People’s Hospital in China. The kit was used on 16 samples, eight positive and eight negative, which had already been confirmed by other clinical methods. The results using the new detection kit were all successful. Researchers are now developing an integrated device so that the test can be used at clinics, airports and even at home.

Controlling spread of the coronavirus clearly has benefits for healthcare workers and society as a whole. Results from work conducted by a team of medical researchers and bioethicists at Oxford University which has been published in the journal Science has increased understanding of coronavirus transmission. This work is now being used as the basis to assess the feasibility of developing mobile apps for instant contact tracing.

Dr David Bonsall senior researcher at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine and clinician Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital and co-leader of the project to develop an app said ‘The mobile app concept we’ve mathematically modelled is simple and doesn’t need to track your location; it uses a low energy version of Bluetooth to log a memory of all the app users with whom you have come into close proximity over the last few days. If you then become infected, these people are alerted instantly and anonymously and advised to go home and self-isolate. If app users decide to share additional data, they could support health services to identify trends and target interventions to reach those most in need.

Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, a lead author on the Science paper added ‘We need a mobile contact tracing app to urgently support health services to control coronavirus transmission, target interventions and keep people safe. Our early analysis suggests that about half of transmissions occur in the early phase of the infection, before you show any symptoms.’

The mobile app research is being conducted by several international partners and includes teams from NHS England and the UK’s Department of Health & Social Care. If rapidly and widely developed, these mobile apps could help to significantly slow the rate of transmission and support countries to emerge from lockdowns safely as restrictions are gradually lifted.

Science: DOI:10.1126/science.abb6936

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Keep up to date on the response from the chemical industry and the scientific community to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. SCI will be covering key coronavirus research and reporting news from trusted sources so that you have the coronavirus latest.

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